Chief Investment Officer, FMO
FMO’s Chief Investment Officer and member of the Management Board has one main task nowadays: guiding FMO through the Corona crisis.
Moving forward in uncertain times
It was that twilight time, around mid-March, in which some people still light-heartedly went to a bar on Friday afternoon, while it was already dawning on others just how severely Corona might affect us all. Linda Broekhuizen, FMO’s Chief Investment Officer, belonged to the latter group.
“Before Corona had even arrived in The Netherlands, I got questions from our employees about traveling. Some were worried they might have to stay in quarantine in the country they were visiting. That was my first indication of the need to be alert. So, when the virus appeared in Italy, I knew, this is going to become an issue for us all, fast.” Firstly, the FMO’s Travel Crisis Team met, which was quickly combined with the Crisis Emergency Response Team and renamed the Corona Task Force. Broekhuizen browses through her digital agenda. She stops at Thursday the 12th of March. ”That is when we decided to do a full test working from home the following day, Friday the 13th.” She laughs. ”We thought that was a really good day for a test run.”
At the end of the afternoon, all FMO staff members were instructed to take home their laptops, chargers and personal items, and to change their passwords. Managers were reminded not to forget their ID stamps. ”There were so many little things we had to think about. But I am very happy we did.” The test run went smoothly. The IT systems held up well, and only two FMOers who did not have access to their mail showed up at the office. ”Only two, I thought that was quite an achievement.” Was there possibly also a designated survivor chosen from within the FMO board, just like in the council of ministers? Broekhuizen raises her eyebrows and laughs. ”No, we do have a rule that we don’t fly together on the same airplane, but in this case we did not have to decide on a designated survivor. Still, we did identify key people in business-critical processes as part of our business continuity plans.”
”We needed our staff to know that we didn’t expect the same from them as in the office.”
The test day turned out to be the first day of a new reality in which Corona determines the pace of the world. In the Netherlands that weekend an ‘intelligent lockdown’ was set in place: outside of the vital sectors, everybody has to work from home. Shops are open, but staying a 1.5-meter distance from other people is the norm and gatherings are forbidden.
At FMO, the internal priority was getting employees stationed abroad safely back home, Broekhuizen explains. At the same time, there was a need to help the home workers find a new balance—for example, with kids needing attention during video meetings. ”We needed our staff to know that we didn’t expect the same from them as in the office. If I look back, I am really proud of all the hard work that was done to make the transition possible and it was great to see how well and fast everybody adapted.’’
Externally, FMO started to reach out to clients, as the huge consequences to the global economy became apparent. “The largest difference between this and the crisis of 2008 is that the effects appear to be much bigger, faster and broader. It is an economic crisis on top of a health crisis,” Broekhuizen says. She stills holds a bit of hope as the infection rate in Africa seems to be rising less rapidly than in Europe, and many developing countries imposed lockdowns swiftly. However, there are serious concerns about the lack of health infrastructure and the financial-economic impact in African countries. ”Just imagine how it must be for the poorest people. They have to go out to work every day to get food on the table. They will be hit hardest. Corona will only increase inequality”, she says with concern.
”Just imagine how it must be for the poorest people. They will be hit hardest. Corona will only increase inequality.’’
The flood of capital out of emerging markets is of grave concern to FMO. Getting an accurate picture of the size of the problem and the needs of FMO’s clients has turned out to be the hardest part so far, Broekhuizen says. ”What kind of impact can we expect? Can we and our business partners help enough? Are we ready if the need for support and restructuring of loans comes all at the same time for all our clients? That is why I invest considerable time now in working together with the European Development Finance Institutions and the other Multilateral Development Banks. This is something we need to do together. And I see the willingness to do so, that is a silver lining.”
Broekhuizen’s home office is situated in a corner of her living room, with the outlines of a brass tree visible in the background of her video calls. She turns her head to look at it herself. ”I get quite some reactions to it. Someone even asked whether it was a maple tree or a marijuana plant,’’ she says with a smile. ”Let’s say it’s somewhere in between.” Broekhuizen has a standing-table, just like at the office. Her husband’s desk is upstairs. ”He had to get used to having me around talking all day”, Broekhuizen laughs. ”But the cat is very happy with my company.”
Yes, she does think the world will change its ways because of the Corona crisis and not just slump back to normal. A small example: “This time forces us to think about how we work. Within FMO there was quite a barrier to having virtual meetings with clients and partners. Now this is the new normal and we need to hold on to that. I don’t see us traveling as much as we used to ever again. Going forward, I believe we will be much more selective in booking flights, which is excellent for fighting air pollution.”
What the Corona crisis will mean for FMO’s long-term strategy is still to be seen, Broekhuizen admits. “We are still busy assessing the short-term effects, helping our clients where we can. And it also depends on how long this crisis will last.” After a moment’s thought, she continues: “But what I do know is that FMO will only be needed more. In the twenty years I’ve worked for FMO I have never seen a crisis of this magnitude. Inequality will increase, even more so for women, youth and migrants. We have to make these issues visible. The gap to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 widened. This year, the year we celebrate FMO’s 50th anniversary, will always be linked to Corona. Let it inspire us to scale up our impact ambitions and to accelerate execution with our clients and partners.”
4 tips & insights
to consider for business continuity and resilience
Be open and transparent
Every person and organization is part of a larger ecosystem - in private life and in business as well. Understand the broader impacts of the crisis on people’s lives. Be honest and open toward your employees, clients and suppliers. The first solutions often are found in sharing your thoughts with business partners via an open discussion on the challenges you’re facing.
Keep your eye on the longer term
In a crisis like this, everyone logically focuses on the most urgent problems. These are often the problems that have direct impact on your business. But when the first smoke clears, we should also look at the long-term consequences of this global crisis. If there is one lesson to be drawn from this crisis it is that we must be better prepared and don’t ignore expert warnings about the need to be ready for calamity as we are still facing global threats like climate change and inequality. If only to limit any future consequential risks in your own sector.
Strenghten partnerships and look for new cooperation
No one can predict what the future will look like. Be open-minded and help others by sharing your knowledge and experiences. Cooperation is essential if we’re to survive and not only weather the corona crisis but prepare ourselves for whatever comes next. We need to strenghten our existing partnerships and explore synergies in new multi-stakeholder forms of cooperation to fuel innovation.
Increase and use your resilience
This crisis is forcing organizations of all kinds to reassess how they operate. We’ve had to be flexible in finding workarounds for activities that were once part of business as usual, such as international travel. Listen to your stakeholders, from employees to communities to end-users, to understand their evolving needs. Use this time to figure out what’s really necessary, and look critically at your processes and ways of working, and assess innovative solutions (like a digital drone due dilligence)… are they proving fragile or resilient to change?
Future-minded is a special publication of FMO, the Dutch entrepreneurial development bank, to mark its 50th anniversary. Editors | FMO N.V. Creation & design | Studio duel Photography | TB filled out. Contact | For questions please contact email@example.com This email address is not for acquisition purposes.
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